Crop pests may be smarter than thought

A new research paper suggests that species of crop pest may be able to evolve quickly enough to cope with climate change, making many current prediction models worthless.

In a new synthesis, published in the Annual Review of Phytopathology, Dr Dan Bebber from the department of Biosciences at the University of Exeter, examines the gaps in knowledge which mean that models based only on climate, designed to predict where crop pests and pathogens are likely to end up, can be misleading.

Using the example of Colorado potato beetle, Dr Bebber pointed out that one leading climate change computer model predicted it would be unable to establish in Kazakhstan and western China. In fact, the pest spread rapidly through the region – entering Xinjiang Province in China from Kazakhstan around 1992.

Dr Bebber said, “Our review has highlighted how difficult it is to predict where damaging crop pests may turn up. Their ability to evolve tolerance to different climates has been investigated in only a few species but has not been considered in distribution models. We now urgently need to improve monitoring and identification of these pests, particularly in the developing world, both for research and to secure food production.”

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